Petition to stop the collective punishment of Belgian Roma Travellers

Petition to stop the collective punishment of Belgian Roma Travellers

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Dikh He Na Bister Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative started this petition to Charles Michel (Prime Minister of Belgium) and

Several years ago, the Romani survivor and artist Ceija Stojka warned us about the future for Roma with the words: Is “Auschwitz only sleeping”. Today, around 500 young people gather in Poland to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the night when thousands of Roma were murdered in the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.  From Belgium, 351 Travellers were transported to Auschwitz. However, the persecution of Roma did not end with the end of World War II.  Roma are still forced to leave their homes and are regularly attacked by Neo-Nazi groups. Roma are left in the outskirts of the society and denied their basic human rights across Europe – including in Belgium.

A large-scale police action took place in Belgium in the morning of 7 May 2019, resulting in the massive arrest of Belgian Roma Travellers accused of trafficking illegally obtained vehicles. Such collective punishment of the entire Roma Travellers community in Belgium strongly reminds us of the past.

We highly appreciate the work done by the police to tackle criminals in our society. This step was needed as we all are citizens of Belgium and we are responsible and stand as equals before the justice system as Belgian citizens. At the same time, we have concerns with the way these massive arrests have been conducted and we will allow ourselves to be critical towards the way justice is delivered.

Early in the morning 1200 police officers entered simultaneously in 19 locations in Belgium where Travellers parked their caravans. More than 200 arrests took place. According to the media 76 people were arrested, while community members speak of a higher number. All belongings of the families were seized, including pocket money, jewelry, cars, caravans and other personal belongings. They could not even take food from the fridge before having to leave their homes. Bank accounts of innocent people were blocked without giving a reason. Some of the community members were released from custody without having been questioned, but their belongings are still confiscated. Today the families concerned are still without housing. Many of them stay with neighbours of other family members. There is still no clarity about whether and when they will be able to get back their belongings. Some of the caravans are already sold to third parties.

Arresting innocent people without any investigation or proof of crime is unacceptable today. Punishing a whole community instead of just the responsible individuals is an alert. We are seriously concerned that the Roma Travellers Community, similarly to refugees, is being used as a scapegoat to legitimize racist attempts of some state representatives to be elected or re-elected, following examples of right-wing political movements across Europe.

We, as citizens are concerned about the violation of one of the very basic and universal human rights: the right to housing. According to Belgian legislation, caravans are recognised as housing. Confiscating caravans resulted in a great number of families: men, women and children deprived of their homes. Children, disabled people and pregnant women had to spend days and nights on the street without being offered appropriate alternative shelter. We were very critical towards similar attacks against Roma in Eastern Europe and signaled this to the EU institutions. Today an attack against Roma happened in the very heart of Europe: Brussels.

Today we are wondering what will happen to the families left on the street. For years, many Roma Travellers had to resettle every two weeks because of the lack of caravan sites in Brussels. They were continuously persecuted by the police, which led them to constantly change their place. Their children could not take advantage of the right to education, leading to a high illiteracy rate in their community. In addition to that on May 7, their housing rights were violated.

Today, in the 21. century we, the Roma community still have to fight for our fundamental rights, which are supposed to be granted to everyone.

We are calling the Belgian Government to take the necessary actions and to give the Roma and Travellers back their caravans, their only homes. We are demanding a stop to collective punishment of entire communities for the crimes of certain individuals. We are calling human rights organizations to support the Roma community in finding a way to solve this harsh situation for their families who currently suffer injustice and ask for a constructive dialogue with Belgian and international authorities.

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